There’s something magical about having a garden, even a little herb garden that sits on your windowsill. Yes, I said MAGICAL. Research would confirm at least part of my assumption. Gardening can have a positive effect on mental health during a crisis for a few reasons.
1. It offers a sense of stability and security. Read more about horticultural therapy and how it helps people deal with many of the emotions we all might be experiencing during this pandemic: https://on.mktw.net/36ryh2U . Here's a nice quote that sums it up well from Joel Flagler, a professor of horticulture therapy at Rutgers:
“There are certain, very stabilizing forces in gardening that can ground us when we are feeling shaky, uncertain, terrified really. It’s these predictable outcomes, predictable rhythms of the garden that are very comforting right now.”
2. It’s a practical, productive thing to do. With anxieties over the food chain and employment, gardening offers an alternative. What’s more empowering than knowing you can feed yourself? Read more from a former city dweller turned gardener whose perspective on feeding himself and his family will provide inspiration to start your own coronavirus victory garden: https://bit.ly/3d3Jt8M
3. There are very real physical and mental health benefits from having a garden. Don't believe me, check out this article that overviews research on horticulture therapy and all its benefits: https://cnn.it/2TvUCaD
Two summers ago, my son was born. Unlike his big sis, but absolutely like 99 percent of babies on the planet, he was a handful. He slept most of the day and was up all night. He wanted to nurse what seemed like every 15 minutes and every time that kid had to go number two, it exploded up his back, resulting in a crap ton of laundry (pun intended).
Let me start this story by admitting, I did not view motherhood as the magical experience I attribute to my garden. I suffered from postpartum depression, exhaustion, and a general feeling of overall lacking in the mother category. On top of all of that, I had a hip fracture, well actually a sacral fracture – I broke my butt bone. Yes, I had a literal pain in the butt.
It was not the most ideal of circumstances. Not only could I not exercise (my go to stress reliever for most of my adult life), I couldn’t even walk around the house without severe pain. I planned my entire day around the one trip I took upstairs. And completing simple chores like washing the dishes or folding clothes was plain painful. Worst of all, I couldn’t pick up my baby without assistance. It sucked. And I sucked myself down a worm hole of self-pity that wasn’t pretty.
One day my husband went outside and turned over the garden. He planted some baby plants and suggested I go outside to take a look. I still remember the feeling of anticipation as I hobbled out to the garden on my crutches to weed. He hadn’t planted things exactly as I would have, but despite being a little too close to one another, the plants popped up, their little leaves started to flower with hope and life. It was a beautiful.
I know it seems silly, but I just sat there in the grass and stared at these little plants a while, so determined to live. There were weeds all around, trying their darnedest to strangle the life out of them. In that moment, I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I sat for over an hour in the sunshine, contorting my body to rip out the weeds with minimal pain to my butt (still kinda funny, I know). In the end, I felt accomplished, satisfied.
Here's why – there’s something about putting your hands in the dirt (yes, I didn’t wear those pretty little gardening gloves), of feeling the power of its living essence, it’s power to give life back to us, that is unmeasured. One of my favorite writers and farmer, Wendell Berry:
“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
My Grandpa once told me that as a boy he was responsible for the family garden plot that they turned over with a pony and a plow. He said he remembers the joy of finding arrow heads in the ground and as he neared the end of his own life here on earth, he quipped that we all came from dust and to dust will we go. A fact any gardener knows in their bones, something we see and experience each year – it’s a redemptive act.
Being in the garden reminds me of that hope – of redemption, of the cycles of seasons, of life, that as we struggle to pop back up through adversity, we’ve always got to fight the weeds trying to strangle us. That summer, I was my own weed, my mind so fixated on not being in “good” health, on not being able to move around, to pick up my kids. But that afternoon in the garden changed all that. I remembered that life is cycle, that each season passes, that MANY times my little baby plants had persisted despite being surrounded by weeds – they grew tall and strong and bore fruit. I remembered that light sustains us, and it always comes, of which we are especially grateful after a long, dark night.
So I bet you weren’t expecting that saga when you clicked on an article about having a garden. But here’s my elevator pitch – having a garden (even a baby one in pots on a windowsill in a tiny apartment. I did that once, too), is life giving and empowering. Watching something grow and give and then die to be given back and renewed again -- to be used to grow something else does something to your soul I can’t quite put my finger on, but I attempted to explain in the story above. I think we all need to be reminded of what we can grow, especially in difficult times. Baby plants will remind you of that, maybe you needed that reminder right now.